Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Personal Narrative about Decisions That Impact Others

On a beautiful Sunday morning thirty-three years ago today, on November 7, 1982, after months spent studying my Bible, I entered a small Baptist church in North Ogden, Utah.  For sixteen years prior to this date, I attended and was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

 I was a convert to the LDS (Mormon) Church at the age of twenty-one.  My former husband, a return missionary for this church, baptized me on the same day we became engaged.  We married a few months later and were "sealed" in the Salt Lake City Temple for "time and all eternity" a year after that.  For the next sixteen years, I was a loyal and faithful member of the LDS Church.

On November 7, 1982, I had been separated from my husband a number of months.  I had turned to my Bible as a source of comfort and wisdom as I was seeking ways to deal with the break-up of my marriage.  Along the way, my heart and mind began to be transformed as I began to see many things in new light.  I told no one I was reading the Bible.  I didn't want to be influenced by anyone in any church or religion until I felt like I had a more firm foundation regarding my own personal beliefs about God and His Word.

As I read and studied and prayed for direction and answers, several other factors which I will not go into today led me to decide I needed to attend a Bible believing church where the Word of God as found only in the Bible was preached.  I contacted a Christian couple I knew of, the Goldrings, and asked them if they could direct me to a church where I could study the Bible more completely.  They sent me Valley View Baptist Church in North Ogden.

Over past few years, I had watched the pastor personally build Valley View from the ground up.   He had lived in an old house located on the same plot of ground where he was building the church.   Weekly Sunday services were held in this house as he worked on a new building for the growing congregation.  Some Saturdays, or week nights, I would see members of this church with hammers, saws, and ladders working on the construction of this building.  I admired their hard-work, determination, fellowship, and faithfulness from afar.

On that day when I finally walked through the doors of the now completed church building which housed Valley View Baptist, I had actually gotten up and dressed in my children and myself in our Sunday best and headed to the LDS Church located just up the street from our home.  Then, after fighting a mental battle in my head which kept saying, "You know you just can't continue to go to a church in which you no longer believe.  Why are you doing so?"  In reality, I could no longer remain status quo.  I knew that my decision to attend another church, even for one Sunday, which is really all I intended to do, would impact my children.  As I recall, only the younger three children were with me on that day.

As I drove the car along the familiar path towards the church I attended each week, I finally made my decision.  Instead of turning right, or to the north,  at the corner by our house, I kept driving east and headed the mile or so down the road to the Baptist Church.  I entered the sanctuary a tad bit late.  The services had already begun.  I was grateful I would not have to meet anyone.  With the Bible my father had recently sent me clutched tightly in my hand, I slipped into the back row of the church as the congregants began to sing some of the old hymns I had missed for so many years.

On that Sunday, Pastor BJ Hall preached on Luke 18: 8- 30.  I turned to the passage and began to read as he preached.  Was this sermon meant just for me?  I read and listened to the story about the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus immediately pointed out to the rich young ruler that "none is good, save one, that is, God."  Then Jesus reminded this man that he knew the commandments and spoke to him seven of ten commandments.  The man said, "All these I have kept from my youth."  Jesus replied with the words that he lacked one thing:  selling all and following Him.

I knew this story, but on that day it had new meaning to me.  Had I been resting on being good?  Had I actually believed that my "goodness" would somehow grant me eternal life?  Did I believe that by doing all that was prescribed for me to do by a religion I had joined I would be granted points with God?  Did I believe that if God asked me what I had done so that He might grant me access to Him after my death I could say, "Well, I've been good.  I haven't broken those seven commandments."  I was convicted about how shallow my arguments would be before a Holy God after I had just read that Jesus had already said there were none good save God.

An internal battle was being waged.  I knew the truth.  I knew I had chosen to follow Jesus when I was twelve years old.  Along the way, I had been sidetracked when I chose to trust in practicing religion instead of trusting and following Christ alone.  I had been hanging on to or trying to practice self righteousness.  I did not want to admit how far I had gotten away from trusting in grace through faith alone.  I knew it would be difficult to publicly affirm my true beliefs.  I knew my life would be forever changed when I did such a thing.

Luke 18: 29-30 convicted me all the more.  "Verily, I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."

At the end of the sermon, Pastor Hall issued an altar call for those to come forward who wished to receive the Lord.  My internal battle intensified.  I could not remain in that back row of the church any longer.  I moved towards the aisle and began to make my way towards the front where the pastor was standing.  With my body shaking, but with head and heart firm in conviction, I told him I was already a follower of Christ.  I wished to publicly declare that I was rededicating my life to Jesus and renouncing my affiliation with the LDS Church.

Sunday, November 7, 1982, was my personal Reformation Sunday.  I returned to my true beliefs that Sunday,  and in many ways followed the pathway of the Protestant Reformers before me.  The "five solas" were again embraced by me:

  • Sola Scriptura - Scripture Alone
  • Sola Gratia - Grace Alone
  • Sola Fide - Faith Alone
  • Solus Christus - Christ Alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria - To God Alone Be Glory


On that day, as the service was ending, after the congregation had sung their signature hymn, the one I will always associate with Valley View Baptist Church, "Victory in Jesus," Pastor Hall  prayed for me and asked the congregation to pray for me.  He said, that as soon as I left the church that day, that the "great guns of hell" would be aimed at me and that I would need much prayer and support.

He was right.  That is another story for another day.  Now, I want to turn my attention to the ones who really suffered because of my decision: my children.

Suffer little children...

Thirty-three years ago, when I made a decision in North Ogden, Utah, to leave the religion I had been a part of for sixteen years, and reaffirm my true religious beliefs, I was thirty-seven years old and the mother of five children ages fifteen, twelve, eight, six, and four.  I had been raising the children alone without a job, an education, and with very little financial support from their father.  He had left the family home many months before.  I had hoped to save the marriage.  That is why I started reading the Bible.  I was looking for answers on forgiveness and reconciliation.  

As a family, we all were as deeply submerged in the cultural assimilation of the LDS Church lifestyle as any Mormon family in Utah could be.  We also were going through great turmoil as a family.  The head of the household had left.  I was struggling financially and emotionally from the toil of raising a large family with few resources and little support.  I also had been a victim of domestic violence.  This is a part of our family story which is difficult to relate, but it is a truth that we all had endured because of the abuse that had been suffered and witnessed.  Deep in my heart of hearts, I believed, and still believe, that people can change, and do change, because of forgiveness and grace.  I believe  reconciliation is a powerful outcome that occurs when grace, truth, and forgiveness come together.  It remains the prayer of my heart for my entire family.

When my own life turned directions, when I began a new path, I did so out of faith in the God I had known since my earliest days.  I had great hope for my future and future of my family.  I also was a realist.  I knew that my actions could, and most likely would, have great ramifications that might not prove to be beneficial to all concerned.  

Keicha's Memory of Events in 1982

A great divide opened up in my family on that day thirty-three years ago.  Today, my oldest daughter and I discussed how my decision affected her.  She was twelve years old in 1982.  Her life was in chaos because the family which had always seemed so strong, secure, and supportive had come apart at the seams.  Her father was gone and her mother had gone off and done some crazy thing like leaving the Mormon Church.  As she said, "I didn't have a dog in the fight," but she and my other children were caught in the middle of some huge battle being wage around them.

At a time when all she wanted was to feel like she belonged somewhere, her life had been upended first by her father's actions, and now by her mother's actions.   She began to cling to the one thing that had always been there for her and had not changed:  the LDS Church.

The actions of her mother and of her father had nothing to do with her, yet suddenly, through no action of her own, for reasons she didn't even understand, she felt different, ostracized, singled out by her peers, and by some adults in her life.  She was asked why her mother was doing what she was doing.  She was asked if she would remain faithful despite what her mother had done.  She acted out at home towards me and towards her younger siblings who accompanied me to the Baptist Church.  

She said she had loving and supportive people who reached out to her, but she said she always felt that by doing so they were also asking her to take sides in a battle she didn't understand, one of which she did not even wish to participate.  She just wanted her life back as it had always been.  She felt that she had to choose between her loyalty and love for a parent and her loyalty to an institution.  In the end, she said, "They drove me away."  She does not blame me for the position in which she had been placed.  Thankfully, we have had many years to work through the damage done to our relationship between 1982 and 1983.  

She is passionate about how parental decisions about lifestyle and religious choices impact children.  She understands first hand how such decisions can impact in a negative way the children trapped in the middle.  She understands how alone such children can feel.  She understands what it feels like to be labeled "different" by peers, adults, a church, because of the actions of parents.  I admire her passion and her compassion.  I admire how she uses her own voice, one that she gained from many heartbreaks, to speak out for those who might not have a voice, or whose voices are being silenced.

A Memory I Have of Julie During This Time

During this time of family upheaval, Julie, at age six, embraced all that was taught about Jesus at Valley View Baptist.  She loved to sing, "Victory in Jesus."  She asked for a cross necklace for Christmas.  On the first day back to school after Christmas break, she proudly wore her new necklace to school.  She was in first grade.  Her teacher had bought the home in which we lived when Julie was born before we moved to North Ogden.  The teacher was well acquainted with the family and was well aware of the turmoil the family was experiencing.  When Julie returned home from school that day, she told me the following story.

The teacher had asked Julie in front of the entire class why she was wearing a cross to school.  Julie said, "Because I asked my mom for it for Christmas."  The teacher asked, "Does this mean you are no longer a Mormon?"  Julie said, "Yes, now I am a Christian.  Someday, I am going to walk the streets of gold."  The teacher then told her this was inappropriate to say in school and that she was not to wear the cross to school anymore.  Julie was devastated by the way she was treated by the teacher.  She didn't understand.  I verified her story with the teacher.  I expressed how inappropriate the teacher's questions and directives were towards my daughter.  

*******

This long narrative is a departure from my usual type of writing on my blog.  It is deeply personal.  It is my own story of my journey as believer.  I don't often write about my faith in this forum.  My oldest daughter and I have been talking about the events that led up to my departure from the LDS Mormon Church in the last few days.  We've talked about the effects that a decision I made in order follow my own deeply held religious convictions impacted her and her siblings.  There were details that she never knew or had forgotten.  There were wounds that she suffered that she needed to talk to me about.  

For many, many years, I have not written, nor have I publicly spoken about leaving the LDS Church. I stopped writing and speaking about this part of my life because of the impact it had on lives of my children.  I wished for them to struggle and search for their own understanding and beliefs when it came to religious beliefs.  

My children and I have many, many long debates and discussions about God, Jesus, the Bible, religion, and personal beliefs.  They were raised to think for themselves.  Just as I was raised, they also were raised to never participate group think.  I encouraged independent thought and exploration when it comes to establishing personal belief systems.  I also share openly and completely what my beliefs are.  Believe me, when we all get together, there are some pretty interesting debates that are waged between the siblings and between myself and my children.  I welcome, encourage, and embrace these debates because I firmly believe the words of John Milton: "Let her and Falshood grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?"  

Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Religion, and Freedom of Speech are freedoms for which I will always fight.  They are freedoms for which I hope my children will always fight in the ways that are aligned with their own convictions.  

A recent decision made by the LDS Church has caused great controversy in Utah.  Not living there, I was not even aware of the controversy until my daughter and I spoke yesterday.  Her heart is breaking for the children that are caught in the middle of the controversy.  My heart always breaks for children whose lives are negatively impacted by any decisions that the adults in their lives make.  

I am not going to personally engage in the public debate that is now swirling around in social media and in the press regarding recent decisions of the LDS Church.   My blog is a place where I express my beliefs.  It is not a place where I get involved in public debate.   This post was only written from a personal point of view regarding my own life and how decisions I made impacted my children in what appeared to be a negative way at the time.  Over time, I believe my children have come to deeply respect my choices because I made them based on my deepest held beliefs.  

They know I love them more than I love life itself.  They know I pray for them every single day.  They know I will use my voice to express what I believe.  They know I would never force my beliefs upon them because I trust in a great big Sovereign God for all matters of life and faith for those whom I love. They know that I believe in a God who never changes.  He never has changed.  He never will change.  Nothing catches Him by surprise.  He is the Beginning and the End.  I can trust Him for them.

The words of Jesus are often twisted and turned to support whatever beliefs many wish to be foisted on others.  I do not wish to do that.  If you read this entire piece of writing, I hope you will seek out Truth in an open and free way.  

I personally believe that Truth is only found in the Bible.  The truth of the Bible can only be understood by testing scripture against scripture as a complete and whole truth.  Parts and pieces can not be cut out and interpreted to explain some belief that does not line up with all of the other parts of the Bible.

I leave you with these words of Jesus that are found in Matthew 19:14:

Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me:
for of such is the kingdom of heaven. 
KJV

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, 
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
ESV







19 comments:

Terri Tiffany said...

This piece was amazing--probably not the best word I can use but you brought tears to my eyes. I am grateful you decided to share this part of who you are with the world. Someone needs to hear what you went through. Today is your anniversary--perfect day to share. :) Wish I could give you a big hug right now! You are one of the strongest bravest women I know.

Jackie said...

I read every word. I rejoice with you and for you....and for your family. Sisters we are because of Jesus Christ. Christ alone through Grace alone through faith alone....
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8
I praise God for the Holy Spirit Who drew you back.
I'm sorry that Keisha suffered persecution because of the stand that you made; I'm sorry that Julie was unfairly and unjustly asked to not wear her cross back to school....but I count it a blessing that Julie had an opportunity to speak out for Christ and that she stood proudly. Your daughters have a loving Mother who wasn't afraid to listen to and respond to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.
I hug you from here. If I don't see you on this side of heaven, I look forward to meeting you (and Julie and Keisha) and rejoicing with you there. Until then, I send you love and hugs,
Jackie
P.S. As Julie walks those streets of Gold, I praise Him that she doesn't need the cross now that she loved to wear so much. She has Him now. It is finished.

#1Nana said...

I'm glad you have now written about leaving the LDS church. There's something freeing about writing it out and publishing the story. There's nothing they can do to you now and your children are now adults. Your story can help others who are facing the same challenges. Good for you.

Now, will you be writing about the secret underwear?

Terra said...

Wow, yours is a dramatic story for you and for your children.

Linda Reeder said...

Knowing you just a little bit, I am more impressed with you than ever after having read this story of your struggles and your faith journey.
My journey had taken me to a different place, from the evangelical Christian I was supposed to be to the Agnostic that I am. I so appreciate your willingness to be open to the rights of all to reach their own decisions.

Helva said...

Thank you - may you and all your family be blessed. Prayers for all of you, that our Lord will surround you with His love and that you will know His presence with you at all times.

DJan said...

Having been raised in a family that had never attended church, I was able to follow my own inner light. I see how much you struggled to reach your own beliefs after having been raised in another way. It's the first time I realize that it was a gift for me not to have to struggle against old beliefs. Beautifully written, Sally. Thank you. :-)

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I, too, read every word. It can't have been easy to tell this very personal and painful story, but it will be thought-provoking for every person who reads it. It seems that most of my friends have changed from one religion to another, but not in the traumatic circumstances that you did. It also seems that some? many? religions have become concerned with sustaining their worldly power rather than helping people live good lives. But the point of this piece is the impact of your decision on your children, and that has some powerful implications as we look at religions today including LDS and my former religious home, Catholicism.

troutbirder said...

Beautifully written Sally. And it gave me the opportunity to reflect upon some of my own choices. Thank you for that...:)

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a beautiful and powerful post, Sally! I was so interested to hear about this aspect -- these aspects -- of your life: your religious crisis and decision, the pain of domestic violence, the impact of a major decision for you on your children. Thanks so much for taking the risk of sharing this part of your life. So many of us can relate in a variety of ways.

I was especially struck by Julie's experience with her teacher and how, in a very public way, she was held accountable for your decision. It made me remember an incident when I was in a Catholic grade school and the mother superior came into the classroom one day and announced to our class of 60 students that no one was to speak to or have anything to do with me because my parents were not "properly married." What she was saying, after learning this in a conversation with the church pastor, was that my parents weren't married in the Catholic church. At the time, I thought it was because my mother wasn't Catholic. I used to beg her to convert and then to remarry my father in the church so I wouldn't be an outcast. She told me it wasn't as easy as all that. I thought she was being mean. Only when I was in my twenties, did I find out that the reason my parents had married in a Protestant church was because my father had had a brief first marriage (lasted less than a year) and thus he was unable to get married again in the church. I was angry anew at that nun who, in the name of religious dogma, made the life of one very shy and troubled tween even more unhappy. I wish more people would live their faith as Jesus taught.

Olga Hebert said...

Sally, I am once again amazed and touched by the depths of your mind and the breadth of your life's experiences. This is a true baring of your soul and I thank you for the trust you have placed in your readers in sharing this. I am somehow honored to be among your readership.

Barb said...

This is a powerful piece of writing, Sally. You are brave to open yourself and your faith to scrutiny. To live a life of truth sometimes means having to take a stand, even if it's a difficult and not a popular stand. You seem very accepting of differing opinions regarding religion, even though you have a strong Christian faith yourself. That type of openness will always be inclusive rather than exclusive.

Jeanie said...

Sally, this is a tremendously courageous and powerful post, one to remind us all that the decisions we make for ourselves -- even the deepest and most personal ones -- can have an impact on others that we might not realize at the time. I am grateful that you shared this part of yourself. I suspect it wasn't an easy post to write because of its deep significance to you and to your children. But I think it was an important one. I so admire your willingness to allow your children to do and think as they choose -- and for you to do the same.

Keicha Christiansen said...

Mom, one of the things I appreciate most about you is that you really always have encouraged every one of your children to find our own truth (which we most definitely have) and you respect every one of our unique belief systems. I'm not sure how you did this, because I certainly don't ever remember you"preaching" to us about it. I just know that you've always listened with an open mind and heart (Eventually. Sometimes it took us both time to reach that point.) and allowed us to find our own way. It's one of the lessons I've tried very hard to learn from you and emulate as a parent. Thank you for showing all of your children by example to question things rather than mindlessly follow the status quo, and to use our own voices and experiences to stand up for what we believe in. XO

Rell French said...

My sister in life, My sister in Christ. Sola de Gloria! I love you, Rell

Rose said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal story, Sally. It had to be a difficult decision to leave the LDS church, but you and your family are better for it. I was raised in a very religious Protestant household and brought my children up in the same church. But I confess that I'm not very fond of organized religion, and my faith is not as strong as it once was. Your next to the last paragraph states what is wrong with so many churches today. Jesus welcomed the children, the lepers, the prostitutes--I believe we should be as loving and open-minded as well.

fiftyodd said...

A brave post, Sally. As an atheist, I read every word. I did not grow up in a religious household, but dutifully attended Church of England services as a teenager without ever feeling the presence of God. I liked the singing. Forty years later, and the world in the state it is, I can't see that much good has been achieved by any religion. Indeed, I only see around me charismatic church ministers who grow extremely rich at the expense of their parishioners. I do however, believe in the goodness of the average person and strive to appreciate those around me. I find it impossible to believe in an after-life.

A Cuban In London said...

As an atheist and humanist I really enjoyed this post. What came through, or rather, burst through, was your honesty. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Friko said...

Thank you for opening up. All I can say to you is: Bravo.
You were and are a very brave lady who has come through with conviction, faith, hope and charity.